The Lifescape Project bringing legal case over government’s Biomass Strategy

Logging in the US Southeast, 2020 © Een Vandaag screenshot Feb 2020


The Lifescape Project, an environmental and rewilding charity, is taking the UK government to court over the legality of its new Biomass Strategy, which is intended to contribute to the government’s targets of net zero emissions by 2050, (as part of the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act). The new strategy contains proposals for Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which involves burning wood for energy, then storing the subsequent CO2 emitted underground. In the UK, lots of the wood that is being burned comes from trees that are felled in biodiverse-rich forests in Canada and in the southeast of the United States, and then processed into wood pellets.

Lifescape has filed an application for a judicial review in the High Court alleging that the Biomass Strategy is unlawful because the government failed to conduct an adequate analysis on whether it will achieve genuine reductions in carbon emissions, or if it will actually contribute to meeting the net zero target.

The case argues that burning forest biomass to generate power is not low carbon as the government claims, but in fact produces significant emissions of CO2. It was also argued that the government was sent evidence that the wood pellet industry is logging wetland hardwood forests in the United States. More recently, a BBC Panorama investigation has shown that logging forests for energy is destroying ancient and biodiverse forests in Canada and the United States. Lifescape argues that while creating an illusion of climate action, the government’s reliance on BECCS will cost billions, worsen forest destruction which is a major driver of climate change, and delay more meaningful climate action.

Elsie Blackshaw-Crosby, managing lawyer at The Lifescape Project, said: “Despite an abundance of evidence that logging forests for fuel is increasing climate pollution and destroying irreplaceable ecosystems, the government’s Biomass Strategy supports continued use of imported wood fuels and takes the false solution of biomass even further, relying extensively on BECCS to produce ‘negative emissions’…Not only will it cost billions of taxpayers’ money but it will not even help achieve net zero. This case calls on the government to assess and reflect the actual climate impacts of biomass and BECCS in their climate policy, a move that will force them to look at other renewable energy solutions.”

It has been noted that North Yorkshire-based Drax, the UK’s largest biomass power plant, could be affected by the case. The largest consumer of wood pellets in Europe, Drax received more than £3 million per day in renewable energy payments in 2022. The company is now trialling BECCS, which it claims will deliver negative emissions, and it is signalling to investors that it anticipates benefiting from new government BECCS policies. Earlier this year, Drax was told by its own scientific advisors to stop calling biomass carbon neutral.

If the case is successful, the court would declare that the decision to adopt the Strategy should be quashed and ministers would be forced to reconsider the policy.

ERF have granted the Lifescape Project with a project-based grant, which supports a multidisciplinary and partnership-based study of the feasibility of keystone species reintroduction to England. The grant has not funded their Biomass Strategy legal endeavours.